Jonathan Pryce

Active - 1976 - Present  |   Born - Jun 1, 1947 in Holywell, Wales  |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Fantasy

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Welsh native Jonathan Pryce switched from art studies to acting after winning a RADA scholarship, and quickly became both a critically viable and immediately recognizable screen presence. In numerous screen assignments, Pryce's subtle intensity and mania - deftly but not deeply buried beneath a placid exterior - could be parlayed with equal aplomb into roles as an angst-ridden everyman or a manipulative sociopath. In the majority of Pryce's characterizations, he projected a frightening degree of intelligence and sophistication almost by default.

After a few seasons with the Liverpool Everyman Theatre, Pryce scored a London theatrical success in Comedians, winning a Tony award when the play moved to Broadway in 1976. Thereafter, he starred in the Broadway musicals Miss Saigon and Oliver!. Pryce's subsequent effectiveness in villainous roles threatened to typecast him as Machiavellian heavies, such as his icewater-veined personification of "reason and logic" in Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989). As time rolled on, however, Pryce began to demonstrate his ability to add layers of offbeat and intriguing eccentricity to roles that, in other hands, could easily become caricatures or stock parts - a gift apparent as early as Pryce's leading turn in Gilliam's Brazil (1985), as a beleaguered everyman enmeshed in a Kafkaesque bureaucratic nightmare. The actor was particularly arresting, for example, as James Lingk, a bar patron with not-so-subtle homosexual inclinations, who falls prey to the machinations of hotshot salesman Ricky Roma (Al Pacino), in James Foley's 1992 screen adaptation of the David Mamet play Glengarry Glen Ross. He commanded equally powerful screen presence as Henry Kravis, a cunning entrepreneur and the "master of the leveraged buyout" (who bilks corporate giant F. Ross Johnson for a fortune) in the Glenn Jordan-directed, Larry Gelbart-scripted boardroom comedy Barbarians at the Gate (1993). In 1995, Jonathan Pryce won a Cannes Film Festival best actor award for his portrayal of homosexual writer Lytton Strachey in Carrington, opposite Emma Thompson.

In subsequent years, Pryce's screen activity crescendoed meteorically; he remained extremely active, often tackling an average of three to five films a year, and demonstrated a laudable intuition in selecting projects. Some of his more prestigious assignments included roles in Evita (1996), Ronin (1998), De-Lovely (2004) and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007). The Brothers Grimm (2005) re-united the Welsh actor with Brazil and Baron Munchausen collaborator Terry Gilliam. In 2008, Pryce teamed up with George Clooney, Renee Zellweger and John Krasinski for a supporting role in the Clooney-directed sports comedy Leatherheads (2008); Pryce plays C.C. Frazier, the manager of a 1920s collegiate football player (Krasinski).

Many American viewers may continue to associate Pryce with his television commercial appearances as the spokesman of Infiniti automobiles.

Movie Highlights

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  • Originally aspired to be a teacher; was studying at Edge Hill College when he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and decided to pursue acting instead.
  • During the 1970s, served as artistic director of the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool, England, where he also made his stage debut.
  • Has won two Laurence Olivier Awards for his stage work: in 1980 for William Shakespeare's Hamlet and in 1990 for the Vietnam War musical Miss Saigon.
  • Amid controversy, originated the role of Vietnamese-French pimp The Engineer in Miss Saigon on Broadway. The show was strongly criticized by some groups for not using an Asian actor in the part.
  • Starred in a series of well-known Infiniti car commercials in the mid-'90s that were parodied in a Mike Myers Saturday Night Live skit.
  • Frequently cast in director Terry Gilliam's movies, starting with the sci-fi classic Brazil in 1985, and subsequently appearing in the fantasy films The Adventures of Baron Munchausen in 1988 and The Brothers Grimm in 2005.